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Home » Clarion » 2019 » February 2019 » Insulting! CUNY’s austerity budget

Insulting! CUNY’s austerity budget

Won’t fund PSC contract

Members protested the vote by the CUNY Board of Trustees to approve a meager budget request that fails to fund mandatory raises and increase adjunct pay.

It wasn’t a shock in late December that Governor Andrew Cuomo once again vetoed a bipartisan-supported “maintenance of effort” bill for public higher education, a bill that would have included funds for CUNY and SUNY to cover the inflationary increases in operating costs at the four-year colleges, such as rent, utilities and contractual salary increases. The move also came as Cuomo vetoed a 12-week bereavement leave bill for workers, something he promised to sign during his campaign.

But for CUNY, the real pain came in early January, when the CUNY Board of Trustees made its official budget request to the city and state, one that the PSC said was based on the expectation of another tuition increase at the four-year colleges. While the request called for an increase in the funds for fringe benefit costs, it did not include a specific dollar-amount needed to fund the next contract and did not address increasing adjunct pay as a part of that contract. The message this sends to the union is that raises will have to come out of colleges’ existing budgets (especially true for senior colleges, which are funded by the state, unlike the two-year campuses, which are largely funded by the city). The implication is that campuses will have to make cuts before faculty and staff can get their raises.


Worse, Cuomo’s executive budget proposal, made soon after the CUNY board’s budget request, was, in the eyes of the PSC, a status quo budget that keeps higher education funding essentially flat, offering nothing to address contract demands or student needs. As this newspaper went to press, PSC President Barbara Bowen testified to state lawmakers in Albany about the budget, saying, “[T]he CUNY senior college operating budget is essentially flat. The fringe benefit funding is critical, but it is substantially less than CUNY requested to cover its current mandatory cost increases. We call on you to work with the university and the executive to ensure that the full amount is covered. Anything less will mean that CUNY will have to strip academic programs in order to pay legally mandated costs. The pattern of failing to increase investment, even though student enrollment and mandatory costs are climbing, has resulted in a slow-motion fiscal crisis for the CUNY senior colleges. We are witnessing a gradual but devastating disinvestment. Per-student funding from New York State for CUNY’s senior colleges declined by 18 percent between 2008 and 2018, and by 4 percent between 2011 and 2018. New York can’t keep forcing the colleges to absorb costs that should be covered by increased public funding and, at the same time, handle more students without eventually hurting the enterprise of education itself. The CUNY senior colleges are on the brink of unsustainability.”

In addition, the board’s draft budget mentions the PSC-CUNY agreement to reduce the full-time teaching load, but does not give a funding figure to realize that goal. In short, the union said, the board has requested a budget from the state that continues a history of underfunding, will force campus administrators to make painful cuts locally and ensure that costs are paid by increasing tuition and appealing to private donors while the state shirks its financial obligation to public higher education.

Cuomo’s executive budget proposal came after months of pressure for the full funding of CUNY by the union and CUNY students, including rallies, hours of testimony to the board and a civil disobedience action right before Christmas.


Faculty and staff members came to a CUNY Board of Trustees hearing on January 9 at the Borough of Manhattan Community College to protest the inadequate budget request (members also vocally protested during the full board’s vote on the budget on January 14 at CUNY’s headquarters in Midtown). Members decried the board’s failure to advocate for the university with whose welfare it is entrusted. What follows are some excerpts from members’ testimony.


Being an adjunct takes over my life. There is never a day when I am not working. My students deserve better than a professor who is constantly overwhelmed and distracted. Money- fear, job insecurity, insufficient time for my students and even less time for myself leave me emotionally gutted. I never expected to get rich as a college professor, but I never thought I’d be expected to martyr myself either.

My frenetic pace can’t not trickle down to my students. My pedagogy becomes more about what corners I can cut. It doesn’t feel good knowing that I could be doing a better job if only I weren’t so overextended. At times, I feel like I’m part of a student factory, not a center for intellectual exchange and growth. Our students, especially the students at two-year campuses who are oftentimes the most underserved and in need of remediation, deserve better.

Leslie Akst
Adjunct Lecturer, English
Queensborough Community College and Queens College

Our sacrifice

I am a late returnee to academia, having resumed graduate school in middle age after surviving 9/11. Suffering from PTSD, I relied upon student loans to support myself, my disabled wife and college-age son, also a trauma victim. I managed to complete my PhD at the CUNY Graduate Center and embark on the tenuous life of an adjunct.

Members pressed the demand for $7K for adjuncts.

We adjuncts give our all for our students, taking the extra time for conferences, preparation, research and development of instructional materials. For example, just in the past week I have written six recommendations for students’ applications to graduate school, law school, and scholarships. In the past year I have developed an open education resource text for my world music classes at John Jay and Borough of Manhattan Community College – all to help students save on costs, as they desperately need to do.

We adjuncts must sometimes work two, three, four, five jobs to try and make ends meet. We must often choose what bills we will not pay this month. Paying back student loans is often not an option. How do we earn a living during intercessions and summers? Savings? Surely you jest. Retirement? I shudder to think, and I am now 65 years old, so this is a looming reality. Almost all of us adjuncts are in this position. Very simply, we cannot give the students the attention they need when we are distracted by financial crisis!

In the name of austerity, the CUNY Board of Trustees has refused to pay us what we deserve and bring us to parity with other institutions in the area. In the name of politics, the Republican-controlled State Senate wouldn’t stand for a tax hike; the governor wouldn’t stand for a tax hike. We now have a totally Democratic-controlled state government, so the MOE and $7K adjunct pay should now be doable if there is courage and the political will. It is inconceivable that the Board of Trustees would tell us we don’t deserve a living wage, and that CUNY students don’t deserve faculty who can truly serve their educational needs without distraction.

Noé Dinnerstein
Adjunct Lecturer, Art and Music
John Jay College and BMCC

A sham progressive

This budget does not ask for the kind of money that is required to fund the past contract, or the new one for which we are bargaining. Your proposal does not include a large enough investment in CUNY: a decent raise for the faculty and staff, and, in particular, a substantial raise for our part-time faculty. In the last contract we won an important demand, the reduction of the teaching load. Instead of this reduction being a cause for celebration, allowing faculty and staff to spend more time with students, preparing courses and doing research, for many faculty this gain has been turned into a loss. Without additional funding to implement the reduction, administrators have had to navigate a zero-sum game where there are many losers: research faculty, faculty who worked on college initiatives and do absolutely necessary administrative work in their departments, and students who have seen a decline in important services.

Governor Andrew Cuomo’s claim to be a “progressive” is a sham when it comes to the funding of CUNY. He may think he can spin an image of himself as the anti-Trump and get away with it, but we who work at CUNY will not forget his refusal to adequately fund the budget for public higher education in this city and state. A day of reckoning will come when not only the people in the state of New York, but in the country as a whole, will pull back the curtain and recognize Cuomo for who he is, another politician that favors his wealthy donors over working people. If Cuomo wants to claim the mantle of a progressive reformer he needs to fund labor contracts above and beyond the operational expenses to run the university, support free tuition and pay adjuncts a wage that recognizes them as true professionals.

Lorraine Cohen
PSC Vice President for Community Colleges
LaGuardia Community College

Visualize austerity

I have moved out of my office on the third floor of our primary classroom building at Kingsborough Community College because of the water leaks that have flooded our corridors and soaked the walls of our office. Four of the seven offices along this corridor have been abandoned to black mold. Our maintenance staff constantly works to dry the lake that forms in the hallway, trying to keep it safe. While their workload has increased from infrastructure problems, the maintenance staff numbers have been reduced because of austerity measures. Our campus grows dirtier and wetter.

This is what happens at the physical level. Let me describe losses in our academic programs. Recently, the faculty in our community colleges were given a reduction in teaching hours; we had most of our funding for service reduced or removed. To continue the programs that enrich our students’ educational experiences and successes, we are now required to work for no compensation. This is increasingly difficult as our workforce consists of more adjuncts. We have trouble attracting and keeping good adjuncts because of the low pay. Those who do work at our college need to travel to second jobs and are incapable of working for free.

Academic programs that enriched our students’ lives and made them more successful are disappearing or have been gutted.

Beth King
Assistant Professor, Anthropology
Kingsborough Community College

Filling niches

Adjuncts fill niches – important niches – in a university where a record number of adjuncts do most of the teaching. I fill a niche. Upon request from students, I was elected as a faculty advisor to student government at Borough of Manhattan Community College, where I served students from 2006 to 2016.

Anthony Gronowicz talked about how adjuncts enhance the academic community in countless unpaid ways.

After Hurricane Katrina, I advised the student government to appropriate $35,000 for a trip in January, 2006, to New Orleans, where there were 1,833 confirmed fatalities due to the storm. We worked for a week gutting houses and removing mold from houses. Thirty-three students and faculty chaperones, including myself and my daughter, made the journey. We were the first CUNY college to do so.

I fill a niche. The street sign at the edge of the ramp leading up to our main entrance that reads Frederick Douglass Landing is the result of the decision made unanimously by the student government that initiated the move at BMCC when I was faculty advisor.

I fill a niche. I started up the college newspaper in my classes. We produced five hard-copy issues that ran from 2014 to 2017. Students want something that they can hold in their hands. Three editors-in-chief came from my classes and one came from student government. One editor-in-chief went on to Bard College after BMCC. One writer went on to the University of Pennsylvania, where I received my PhD in US history.

I call on you as trustees to oppose austerity for CUNY. Take a public stand for a contract that is fully funded, includes real raises for all and increases adjunct pay to $7K per course.

In a city where the cost of living is higher than in any other city and will only increase – as Amazon’s presence in Seattle has demonstrated – CUNY must not continue to be run on the backs of adjuncts.

Anthony Gronowicz
Adjunct Associate Professor, History
Borough of Manhattan Community College

Selling out

What is most troubling is a section [in the budget request] called “Partnership With Industry.” The proposal names Amazon, Google, Con Edison and JPMorgan as corporations that will “develop curriculum…preparing students for meaningful internships and high-growth jobs.” It goes on to propose new degree programs “based on industry feedback, course creation or revision.”

Faculty should enjoy their own right to “high-growth jobs” with protection of their professional prerogatives. Remember, CUNY is not an industry training school. It is a university.

Stephen Leberstein
City College

Dereliction of duty

At a press conference Governor Andrew Cuomo announced, “One of the things that I have been very purposeful about for New York is that New York should be the progressive capital of the nation…. In New York we don’t want to look progressive. We don’t want to sound progressive. We actually want to be progressive.”

Board of Trustees, this draft CUNY budget does not align with Cuomo’s vision to make New York the progressive capital of the nation. A progressive budget challenges the fundamental premises of continued austerity for public higher education.

Amy Jeu
College Laboratory Technician
Hunter College

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